Sunday, 11 May 2014

Rest, Research and Rock Bottom Incomes

I'm looking forward to a well-earned rest next week. I say rest, but of course my holidays tend to be working holidays because I'm always finding things I want to write about or at least research. On this occasion I'm heading to Guernsey to pick up a prize, so it's already work-related. I entered a poetry competition last year on my way back from the Isles of Scilly. A newly discovered passion for swimming in the sea gave rise to 'Atlantic' which was given first place. It's since been illustrated by Darren Cranmer and several students at Elizabeth College - so many thanks to everyone, the judge included. I think the poem will end up on several buses along with the other prizewinning poems. Nice to know that Guernsey has a literary festival too. I'll be camping on the island and cycling around, but will definitely catch Andrew Motion and Mario Petrucci at some point.

I have a connection to Guernsey via my great-uncle Grotius who had the rather Harry-Potterish title of 'Rector of the Vale'. He was interned during the 2nd World War and I imagine he endured a certain amount of hardship. I have to confess I know very little about the Channel Islands during this period. So, that'll be one notebook filled with notes by the end of my holiday...

Here's Grotius in his army chaplain uniform - at least that's what I assume he's wearing. It's interesting that so many of my family on my mother's side - well, the chaps anyway - became men of the cloth. And there's me doing some pretty similar work in certain respects, but a dyed-in-the-wool atheist. A good thing there's no afterlife, because they'd be turning in their graves or sending lightning bolts down to hit me. Or maybe not. Grotius looks like the sort of person who might have had a good sense of humour.

When I get back, I'm straight into weddings. It's the season for them. I just hope the weather is decent. And there will be baby namings with lots of cake and delightful chaos, as well as funerals, which truly are the ceremonies that keep me grounded. I'm very glad that I've decided to do the whole range of life-events. There's a narrative arc to my work now (my ministry a nun I know calls it). It's true, one does gain an enormous sense of perspective.

Speaking of perspective, I've lost count of the number of artists who are seeing a reduction in income in real terms. Fees haven't just been pegged back to remain static - which is in effect a cutback anyway - they're actually being reduced. Someone offered me £50 for a storytelling workshop the other day. Out of curiosity, I checked previous invoices and contracts to see when I'd last earned fifty quid. Unfortunately, my records only go back as far as 1995 - 19 years ago - when I was earning the princely sum of £75 for similar work - and this was all over Greater Manchester where the cost of living was, and still is, considerably lower than in Oxfordshire. Let this be a warning to those young artists at Elizabeth College who are considering a career in the arts. Funders like newcomers because they can get them for free or for very little. Pretty soon the newcomers will be earning what I was earning 30 years ago and then the funders will start looking towards the next tranche of newcomers coming through...

Makes you wonder what use a CV is, doesn't it?

Oh well, there's always swimming and summer festivals and the great span of human life events with their amazing unfolding stories and a notebook full of ideas...

                    ...and a poem on a bus.

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